Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Isle Royale 2016, Day 2: Lane Cove to Daisy Farm

Last time: Rock Harbor, up and over the Greenstone to Lane Cove

Greenstone Ridge trail, our special challenge for the day. Photo by Sarah.

I woke around 6 am, when the first blush of sunrise was starting to lighten the sky. A quick jaunt to the outhouse convinced me that the mosquitoes were earlier risers than me, and that I should hide out in the tent for a while longer. Then, it began to rain. Clearly, I was meant to sleep in today!

When Sarah and I crawled out of the tent again at 7 am, the rain had stopped and we saw that Shelly and John were already packed up and about to head out. We wished them well and set about making our traditional camping breakfast of hot tea and oatmeal. We packed up camp somewhat slowly, after the unexpectedly hard workout we had done yesterday.

We paused briefly to find hiking sticks on our way out, which was easy (especially since it's my superpower to find them any time, anywhere). Shortly after we left Lane Cove, a couple who had also camped there caught up to us and headed past, walking at a fast clip with their fancy-pants hiking poles. Who needs that when you've got a stick!

The hike back out of Lane Cove was beautiful in the morning light. I quickly outpaced Sarah (she claims that I was "running", which I can assure you was definitely not the case!) (She adds: "YES YOU WERE."). After a few stops, we agreed that I would go ahead at my own pace, and we would meet up at Mt. Franklin for a break.

I raced on ahead, but kept stopping to admire the beauty of the swamps that lay between the ridges. The morning sunlight, a light mist, and the dew on the plants all made for a gorgeous picture. I had barely even noticed all this beauty yesterday. Plus, I was keeping a sharp eye out for moose. Despite these frequent stops, I never paused to take my camera out of my backpack, and so I have no photos from that part of the hike. Now I really wish I did, though.

Sooner than I expected, the strenuous climb up the cliff face started. Upclimbing isn't nearly bad as downclimbing, especially because upclimbing doesn't require any finesse -- for better or for worse, it's all muscle. As a result, I was a bit winded by the time I reached the fallen trees. I removed my pack and crab-crawled under the trees again, then stashed it against a tree at the next bend in the switchbacks. I grabbed some gorp and went back to sit on the fallen trees while waiting for Sarah. As I did so, a huge crashing sound came from the trail above me. I swung my head around just in time to see... my pack, rolling slowly but inexorably down the trail towards me.

I ran up the trail with a speed I didn't know I could still muster, but luckily the pack stopped after just a few tumbles. Reseating the pack securely between two trees, I went back and met Sarah at the fallen trees, where we rested and enjoyed some gorp.

We then parted ways again. The last part of the uphill seemed to stretch on forever. However, I thoroughly enjoyed following the narrow trail through deep, dark, and cool cuts between the rocky faces, with ferns and moss draping over the bedrock cliffs. I topped out at a fern-bordered path that quickly led to the junction with the Greenstone Ridge Trail.

At the junction I ran into the speedy couple who had passed us earlier. They were deeply engrossed in doing something with the woman's foot, but stopped to chat as I rested for a moment. Apparently her foot already had blisters which required moleskins, and his knee was hurting badly after the steep uphill. "Where are you headed?" I asked, hoping the answer was "3 Mile campground", about 2 miles downhill. Nope -- they were headed to McCargoe Cove, another 10 miles from this very trail junction. I mention this here only in case their relatives are wondering what happened to them and happen to be reading this blog.

Greenstone Ridge trail
I wished them good luck -- and I really meant it! -- and turned onto the Greenstone Ridge trail, not wanting to waste any time here when Mt. Franklin was a mere 3/10 of a mile away. The trail was straightforward, and after about 3/10 of a mile I came out into a grassy clearing with some rocky bluffs looking towards the Canadian shore. The views from the bluffs weren't that great. They were partly masked by trees, but I could see a reasonable amount of the lake and the "Sleeping Giant" on the Canadian shore -- and the breeze was fantastic. Just to be sure, I dropped my pack and headed down the trail a few yards. It disappeared downwards into a forest, so I headed back: This must be Mt. Franklin!

I pushed my way through the low brush to the cliffs, surprised at how few paths a place as well-known as Mt. Franklin had out to the views -- not to mention the fallen logs across the paths! But, I wasn't about to complain: The wind cooled me as I sat on the edge of the cliff, eating gorp and enjoying being 40 pounds lighter for a little while.

Sarah joined me a few minutes later. She had also met the McCargoe Cove hikers and shared my skepticism. We made our lunch (rice cakes with peanut butter -- the best trail food ever), looked at the map, and generally relaxed. After a while, I took out the small weather radio that we had brought and discovered that I could pull in the Marquette National Weather Service radio broadcast as clear as day up on this high ridge. The Marquette NWS office broadcasts a weather forecast for Isle Royale every half hour, and we were able to pick up an extended forecast. Things looked questionable: Thunderstorms tonight, rain tomorrow night, and a solid day of rain after that, with a questionable following day as well.

We conferred while laying on the remarkably warm and sunny rocks: Our current plan put us in Moskey Basin for a rest day during the fully rainy day. We decided it would be better to risk a day stuck in a shelter, than to change our plans and possibly be caught hiking in a full-day rainstorm.

After a wonderful rest, we hitched our packs back on and headed down the trail. The trail dipped down into a forest and then quickly -- not 100 yards from where we had rested -- it pushed right back up into an opening with huge rocky cliffs overlooking the most amazingly clear view of Lake Superior and Canada. In front of it all was a small sign: "Mt. Franklin". Ah.

However, there were already several large (and loud) groups hanging out in all of the best viewing spots, so we regretfully continued onward. Next time, perhaps.

Soon, the trail came out from the trees and ascended a rocky hill to a high point, covered in dry grass, low shrubs, and late-summer wildflowers. The views toward the south were astonishing, and I spent quite a bit of time taking photos here.

Sarah on the Greenstone, overlooking Moskey Basin and Conglomerate Bay
After that, the trail stayed almost entirely out in the open. The Greenstone Ridge trail was hot, sunny, and very exposed. The breeze which had felt so refreshing on "fake Mt. Franklin" (as I now thought of it) started to get a bit too stiff. Together with the direct sun, it dried me out. The trail was a solid ribbon of bedrock, visible where the grass and low juniper bushes had been worn away by incessant foot traffic. Occasionally it would dip down into a low spot, where incredibly thick deciduous shrubs reached up over my head. In these places the trail was so narrow that the shrubs constantly grabbed at my arms, legs, and pack. I used my walking stick as a path clearing device, pushing away the bigger branches and protecting my face from the rest.

The trail consisted of a number of large climbs and descents over rocky mounds, each with smaller ups and downs on top of it. This got rather tiring after a while. There was never a flat spot, but there were almost constant dramatic views to either north or south (but rarely both at once).

Soon, the fire tower on Mt. Ojibway -- our next waypoint -- peeked up over the distant edge of a hill. The trail started to open up into exposed rocky hills with few trees. Occasionally it also wound through low juniper and blueberry bushes -- in fact, enough blueberries started to show up that I frequently stopped to grab entire handfuls. They were sweet, delicious, and kept me going.

The constant up-and-down wore me down, but the glowing beacon of the Mt. Ojibway tower helped me keep moving. After what seemed like an endless series of hot hills, I finally arrived at the base of the tower. I dropped the pack, grabbed my camera, and... waited at the bottom. A family consisting of two saintly parents and a swarm of children with an endless amount of energy were climbing the tower.

The family finally made it down, picked up their tiny daypacks, and headed down the hill towards Daisy Farm. The view from the top -- and the breeze -- was spectacular. I could see across the island, and up and down the Greenstone both ways. And then... Sarah appeared.

Hot and extremely grumpy, Sarah harrumphed her way up the last hill and collapsed at the base of the tower. She had not had a good hike since I saw her last. The heat, the hills, the wind... everything conspired to make a miserable Greenstone hike for Sarah. She was completely wiped out, and her feet were seriously hurting her due to a twisted sock seam. We sat quietly (with boots off) for a while, but I couldn't convince her that a view from the tower would help.

We did agree, however, that it was getting late in the afternoon, and that as a result I would head downhill with all due haste in order to secure us a shelter at Daisy Farm. We probably didn't speak quite as formally as that, but you get the idea. I ruefully shouldered my pack, noticing that the pack's belt was really digging into my hips, and started the process of heading back down the Greenstone Ridge for the 2nd time in the last 24 hours.

Looking west along the Greenstone Ridge from the Ojibway tower
While this was the "easy" side of the Greenstone, that didn't keep it from being the same rocky up-and-down that had been eating away at my legs all day. The trail was solid bedrock for most of the downhill, until I hit a low point that quickly became swampy. After a few hundred yards with dense underbrush lining either side of the trail, I suddenly found myself on... another uphill!

This unhappy surprise is apparently called Ransom Hill, named after the Ransom Mine that was once drilled into its slopes. The steep rocky climb was an unexpected and disheartening experience. I had to stop frequently to rest for a few seconds as I climbed its steep and rocky side. As I passed along the top of the hill, my famous "spidey senses" started tingling (famous, that is, among the 3 or 4 other Copper Country explorers that I regularly spent time with, for my ability to apparently walk into the woods at random and find old mine ruins). Through the dense pine forest at the top of the hill, I could see signs of old trenches, pits, and other mine signs.

The downhill side of Ransom Hill seemed to be an eternal gradual downhill. I was trucking it downhill, striding as far as I could in my haste to make it to Daisy Farm before all of the shelters were taken up. I suddenly came upon the family with the young boys who had been running around the fire tower and almost ran them over as they sat resting in the middle of the trail.

All of a sudden, I saw wooden structures in the trees ahead -- shelters! I was at Daisy Farm. And once again, I was surprised: Just like Lane Cove, Daisy Farm is more a large collection of semi-isolated campsites than it is a traditional campground. Even the shelters are fairly separated, with pines or huge thickets of thimbleberry bushes separating them.

A metal campground map on a post stood at a trail intersection between the two shelters. Looking quickly left and right, I realized that both of the shelters were unoccupied. I wasted no time in hanging our camping permit on the door handle of Shelter #22. I dropped my pack but continued to follow the trail, looking to see if we could find a shelter with a nicer view. The Mt. Ojibway trail enters the campground from behind, and so our shelter was pretty far from Lake Superior.

Daisy Farm truly is a maze of trails, laid out (more or less) in a large outer ring with many criss-crossing inner trails. I found my way to the lake and was disappointed to find that even the shelters right on the lake had their view blocked by high brush and scrubby trees, with the Rock Harbor trail running right through their front yards. I did find a remarkable number of unoccupied shelters, however, and quickly realized that (today, at least) my rush was unnecessary.

As I passed Shelter #13, I head a loud "hello there!" and turned to see John and Shelly hanging up laundry in front of the shelter. They had been there for several hours, but had had a similarly rough trek across the Greenstone. We agreed to meet up again later once Sarah and I had settled in.

With that, I decided it was better to stick with Shelter #22 and do camp chores instead. I started by taking our foldable bucket down to the shore to collect some water for filtering. As I sat at the picnic table in front of the shelter (what luxury!), mindlessly pumping the handle approximately 85 times per liter (so sayeth REI), I looked around our new home.

The shelter itself was a classic Adirondack style, constructed of wood painted brown. The ceiling was high enough to stand up near the front of the shelter, but only 3 or 4 feet above floor level near the back. Three walls were solid wood, while the entire front was made of screens. All of the walls had tons of narrow boards nailed to them to allow campers to hang wet clothes and gear. One side of the shelter was completely blocked off from the next shelter by a huge thicket of thimbleberries. The rear was nearly built into the sloping end of Ransom Hill, while the remaining side had spindly red pines between it and the Mt. Ojibway trail. The front, with the picnic table, was open to a cross trail.

Clouds over a fantastic swimming spot
As I sat pumping water and pondering how lovely it was to sit down, Sarah stumbled down the trail. I jumped up and yelled to catch her attention and waved her over to our new home. She collapsed at the picnic table and began slurping down water from one of our spare Platypuses -- she had run out of water shortly after leaving Ojibway and was hot, ornery, and dehydrated.

We vegged out gloriously, and Sarah told me the story of her trip after I had left her at Mt. Ojibway. She had sat in the shade beneath the tower with her boots off, letting her painful feet cool down. As she waited, two Eagle Scouts from Wisconsin hiked up the trail from the west. They were extremely enthusiastic and managed to convince her to climb the tower with them -- which is where all of my good photos came from. They also shared some advice, such as "This tower is way better than Lookout Louise!" and "Belle Isle is the best campground for kayakers." She took note for future trips.

After rehydrating, snacking, and generally enjoying the lack of packs on our backs, we decided it was time to do something with the wonderfully long northern afternoon. That, undoubtedly, would be swimming in Lake Superior (after all, we had to try to outdo Sarah's record from last year of swimming in Lake Superior for 5 days in a row!) We changed into swimsuits and walked down to the lakeshore.

Daisy Farm has a large cement dock that goes far out into Rock Harbor. One side protects a beautiful sandy beach and a rocky lake bed that were absolutely perfect for swimming. The day was warm and beautiful, with a perfectly clear blue sky. The water was a little choppy -- the breeze that had blasted us up on the Greenstone was blowing across the lake as well. Being more exposed to Lake Superior, the water was colder than Lane Cove, but that didn't stop us from taking a good long bath in the lake. It felt great to clean up. After washing, I spent much of my swim just floating on my back and staring at the sky. After the water got a bit too cold for us, we climbed out and sat on the dock.

Daisy Farm Selfie
The dock and beach also turned out to be the social center of Daisy Farm campground. Daisy Farm is a hub for the Isle Royale trail system, and all of the trails that enter Daisy Farm lead straight to the dock. Backpackers came in, especially from Three Mile and Rock Harbor, and immediately dropped their packs at the dock to rest. Hikers coming down the Greenstone showed up at the dock while looking for a (now scarce) shelter. Boaters arriving in small fishing boats and enormous lake cruisers tied up and had a beer. Groups that had been separated on the trail hung out at the dock, waiting to reconnect while enjoying the rest.

Sarah made a quick run back to the shelter and grabbed our water bottles and Kindles, and we spent the next hour drying off, reading, people-watching, and chatting with our new neighbors. Throughout the whole trip (and in pre-trip research), we had heard one thing over and over: "Daisy Farm is a zoo!" Daisy Farm was too busy, too full, always overflowing, and nobody every went there on purpose -- they were just passing through on their way to somewhere more scenic, more quiet, better.

We felt exactly the opposite. We liked it! Daisy Farm was the only place we stayed that actually felt big enough for the late summer hiking crowds -- indeed, one shelter (located conveniently right next to the outhouses) stayed unoccupied until quite late in the evening. (I wonder why.) Socializing at the dock wasn't exactly traditional backpacking fare for us, but we found it immensely enjoyable. We shared a common experience with everyone there, and frankly, not too many genuine jerks make it that far out into the outback. We enjoyed watching a small herd of kids playing frisbee (and the drama that unfolded when someone missed their catch and let it fly too far off the end of the dock); a boater in a very fancy cruiser that docked and held court with anyone interested in his stuff; a group of boy scouts all doggedly pumping identical Katadyn filters; and a group of three backpackers who seemed to come and go, each looking for the others, meeting in pairs, and then disappearing again before the 3rd could appear.

Our time at Daisy Farm is one of my very favorite memories from a trip that is filled with fantastic experiences. Don't let people scare you away from Daisy Farm.

Clouds and a lone water-filterer
We also watched wildlife: A mama Merganser with (by my count) more than 25 kids led the family on a cruise around the dock around while papa (or another mama?) dealt with stragglers from behind.

Back at the shelter, we started to prepare dinner when John and Shelly stopped by to say hello. Our hiking doppelgängers had left an hour before us and arrived at Daisy Farm two hours before us -- a hint about our respective speeds and breaks. They began their visit with an excited question: "Did you see the moose at Lane Cove??" They had indeed seen a moose right outside Lane Cove campground, browsing in the shallows of the cove. We saw nothing an hour later. Lucky bums! After some further chitchat, they headed home for an early bedtime.

We started dinner: freeze dried Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings. It was spectacularly good, perhaps the best freeze-dried dinner I've had. Despite the hunger that multiple days on rough trails can create, many freeze-dried meals are bland (much like the Chili last night). Something about the Chicken and Dumplings hit the spot.

A second fantastic part of dinner was the result of a last-minute packing decision: A tiny box of wine that we had picked up in Houghton. Today was my birthday, and Sarah had convinced me that we should bring this 350-mL wine box for celebration. I'm not a huge wine aficionado, but this stuff was good. Yum, backcountry wine!

Keeping it classy at Daisy Farm
We took our kindles and (to keep it classy) the boxed wine back down to the dock and read some more. This time, in addition to the normal batch of water-filterers, boaters, and swimmers, we watched as a backpacker pulled a banjo out and started playing it. All I could think was: He must not have come across the Greenstone.

We also noticed a lot of people with gravity filters -- systems that used gravity and two water bags with a filter between them to filter water, with no effort required beyond filling one bag and hanging it on a branch. This looked positively glorious compared to our heavy, hand-cramp-inducing, ceramic filter.

The sky slowly filled with puffy clouds as we sat on the dock again, people-watching and reading. A beautiful sunset was happening somewhere over the Greenstone, but things were pretty good over here too.

As darkness fell, we could no longer avoid going back to our shelter and snuggling in to our sleeping bags. I first checked the weather radio, only to discover that the NWS broadcasts were completely obscured by static. Down at lake level, the signals didn't travel this far. Not too long afterward, a loud crash of thunder heralded a sudden downpour of rain that continued for several hours. Boy, were we glad to be in a shelter... with our clothes hanging outside on a line.

Oh well, that's a problem for future Dave and Sarah. We quickly dozed off into a long and well-deserved sleep.

Next time: The Rocky Road to Moskey

Miles hiked: 7
Total miles: 14

Trail Reviews (based on our one trip as experienced UP backpackers with 40-pound packs):

Lane Cove Trail (going uphill -- south): Medium-hard. Rocks and roots. One really steep uphill plus crossing a bunch of lower ridge lines. Beautiful swamps and lots of bridges.

Greenstone Ridge Trail (Mt. Franklin -- Mt. Ojibway): Medium. Lots of up-and-downs on bedrock, which is hard on the feet. Very exposed to sun, heat, and wind, except for a few dense thickets. Gorgeous views.

Mt. Ojibway Trail (Mt. Ojibway -- Daisy Farm, going downhill -- south): Medium. Relatively mild descent off the Greenstone. Lots of bedrock. Ransom Hill is an unpleasant surprise near the end.


Nina said...

Loving your report. Mt. Ojibway Trail was definitely a surprise. I had some *issues* there myself during my first trip! It's "downhill," but at the same time not at all. Agree with you regarding Daisy Farm--it's nice, and not its fault that it is a popular stop for logistical reasons. Can't wait to read about your hike to Moskey Basin. Your first 3 stops echo my first trip and you have me wanting to do this route again! (For some reason…)

nailhed said...

"At the junction I ran into the speedy couple who had passed us earlier. They were deeply engrossed in doing something with the woman's foot, but stopped to chat as I rested for a moment. Apparently her foot already had blisters which required moleskins, and his knee was hurting badly after the steep uphill. "Where are you headed?" I asked, hoping the answer was "3 Mile campground", about 2 miles downhill. Nope -- they were headed to McCargoe Cove, another 20 miles from this very trail junction. I mention this here only in case their relatives are wondering what happened to them and happen to be reading this blog."

LOL!! wow, now i understand why they were so anal about itineraries and rules for people heading out into that back country. i never stopped to really talk to anyone on my trip, so i guess i never found out just how many rubes are out there with no sense of distance, or of how to pace your self on the trail, or of how to keep a light pack, or of how not to show up with brand-new-in-box hiking boots, etc.

Also, that view from the tower on Mt Ojibway....damn. That's what i missed out on when I showed up in 2011, in the middle of a gale, soaking wet and in pain, nearly getting blown off the mountain from the winds. Couldnt see any of that, and was too scared to think about climbing the tower.

""Daisy Farm is a zoo!" Daisy Farm was too busy, too full, always overflowing, and nobody every went there on purpose -- they were just passing through on their way to somewhere more scenic, more quiet, better."
LOL! i agree with that...i had a similar experience in that i luckily had no trouble finding an open shelter, but there were few redeeming qualities to the site, and it was a lot of people but they were too spread out to actually converse with, yet there was always the noise of other voices in the woods. I was forced to stay there twice against my will due to horrible weather, catastrophic gear failures, and low spirits. Basically, f@#$ Daisy Farm! AND Ransom Hill, for that matter.

ha, that's funny you boozed it up at Daisy Farm...that was about the height of my activities there, since I was stuck in my shelter due to rain and no dry clothes.

Jacob Emerick said...

Nope -- they were headed to McCargoe Cove, another 20 miles from this very trail junction. I mention this here only in case their relatives are wondering what happened to them and happen to be reading this blog. - this line stuck out. McCargoe isn't that crazy of a destination from Lane Cove - think I reached it around noon (great big winky face).

Definitely takes me back, sir. The views from the tower, the weird mix of exposed rock / overgrown trail on Greenstone, that long climb up Lane Cove. Glad you got a chance to experience these highlands in good weather. The temps are warmer and the exposure is high but them views, though.

I'm leaning towards nailhed on the Daisy Farm, though. I'm not a fan of the larger sites. Had two nights on the island where I was the only one at camp, and another two where it was me and one other person for five+ sites, so half of my trip there was very very quiet. Which was exactly what I was looking for. The only uncomfortably crowded camps I saw was Lane Cove and Moskey, and I didn't want to touch Daisy Farm/Threemile/Rock Harbor. If you're looking for some company I suppose it's not all bad.

Fancy pants hiking poles, eh? Hater ;)

DC said...

@Nina - Glad you enjoyed it! The first two days were sort of a "shock and awe" experience for us as the island kicked our butts. But the next 3 days are some of my favorites for other reasons.

DC said...

@Nailhed: I think the view from the Ojibway tower is worth going back. You should go back, y'know. :) And I'll definitely be taking wine-in-a-box on my next trip... although that will be to a cabin on the shore of Lake Michigan in the dead of winter.

DC said...

@Jake: Yeah, yeah, Lane to McCargo is only crazy if you're a mere mortal hiker. You should incorporate your ridiculously long stride into your hiking models. :P

We didn't really find *any* empty campgrounds -- everything was always full up each night. I'd love to go back in the early or late season, but as a teacher that's basically impossible.

Chief said...

Been going to IR for more than 50 years, been there many,many times. My first camp as a 8 year old boy was at Daisy with my older brother and father and saw my first moose there swimming across Rock Harbor. Daisy is my favorite campground on island and I have been to most of them, it is busy but it is fun to visit with like minded folk. I do have problems with frisbees,in park rules/regulations they are not allowed, and someone playing banjo. I love music, have been to over 500 shows in my life, from the Allman Brothers to Carmen on Broadway.Isle royale is a place of quiet solitude not the beach or a drive in campground, there is a time and place for frisbees and music but Isle Royale is not one of them. I have always lived by the maxim, if folks can hear you in site next to yours, you are too loud.

DC said...

Chief -- glad to hear from someone else who likes Daisy. But if you want to talk about noisy, obnoxious people... all I can say is: You've gotta read about our 2017 return trip!

Chief said...

thanks for responding, I forgot to mention I really enjoy your adventures on the island.I am reading one section a day to savor them and haven't got to 2017 yet. Can not wait. As for noisy and obnoxious folks my experience is that Boy Scouts, I am an Eagle Scout and we would have never been allowed some of the antics I have heard and seen, and church groups are the worst. I actually watched one group casting with fishing poles out near some Mergansers trying to catch one at 3 Mile, unbeknownst to them there was an off duty park volunteer there watching the same and used his radio to alert Rangers, busted. I would like to mention that some of my experiences at Isle Royale were when I was stationed on a Coast Guard Buoy Tender out of Duluth,hence the name Chief, was a Chief in USCG, we were responsible for all the aids to navigation, lighthouses, been to all of them buoys, etc. I requested to be stationed on this ship so I could get back to island that I visited as a boy. Some of the best years of my life, ship would drop myself at Windigo pick me up at Rock days later. Truly a wonderful time. Will be heading out this comming May for 10-14 days.